Thursday, November 10, 2011

Porn and Atheism

PZ Myers of Pharyngula asks why somebody can't both do porn and be a spokesperson for atheism? It's not like pornography is illegal, or even seen as wrong by a substantial population after all. I think he's missing a point. It's not about what is permissible, or what is somebody's right. It's all about communication effectiveness.

Leaving aside the two particular things — porn and atheism — in the post above, you can't really do more than one even slightly controversial or disputed thing in public, and still be an effective spokesperson. When you publicly arguing for a particular cause you can potentially reach anybody who is inclined to at least listen to your arguments. If you are also publicly arguing for a different, unrelated cause, you're likely to lose those who are firmly against this cause, even if they're sympathetic to the other one.

Anybody who is firmly set against your position in one field will by implication tend to reject your position in any other. As you publicly declare your opinion on more controversial issues, the circle of people receptive to your arguments in any of those areas will shrink.

If you are an economist, but also publicly a hippie and a drug liberal then many financial workers (who tend to be conservative and dislike people like you) will dismiss any argument you may have for financial reform, no matter how good how solid, your arguments. People who are sympathetic to drug liberalization may well give your economic arguments more weight than they deserve. If you're an arch-conservative fire-and-brimstone religious leader, then your arguments for, say, community schooling in poor areas may well be dismissed by many liberals and non-believers who suspect you're just trying to push your religion onto more people.

If you do porn movies and argue for atheism, you'll lose potential atheists that dislike porn. And you'll lose religious people that could otherwise view porn in a more sympathetic light. Companies love athletes as spokespeople; they typically do not take public stances on anything else, leaving the reach of the company message as wide as possible.

As private people we are free to live as we want, and argue for whatever we want. But if you choose to try to be an effective advocate of a cause then you do need to limit your public engagement in other areas.

Edit: edited the text for clarity. Never blog before morning coffee.

No comments: